Friday, May 4, 2018

Chopping a franchise off at the knees

Warning: This post contains major spoilers about Avengers: Infinity War.

I'll even include a line or two more of wasted space so that those of you who came here without having seen this movie can get out.

So ... get out.



Did you ever wonder if the rollicking good time known as Thor: Ragnarok would mean that they’d consider a fourth film in the Thor franchise?

Well you can forget about that. Avengers: Infinity War has seen to that right quick.

The opening of Marvel’s latest behemoth success story is all about stopping the Thor bloodline dead in its tracks. Not only does it kill off basically any remaining character from the Thor world – quite a sad outcome after they escaped as refugees at the end of Ragnarok – but for maybe 20 minutes, the movie tries to convince you it killed Thor, too.

What a way for the laughter we enjoyed in Thor: Ragnarok to die in our throats.

As you know if you keep up with the blog, my wife and I tried to watch this on our recent holiday, but the rental from iTunes was caught in some kind of no man’s land between iTunes stores from different countries. It’ll finally expire in a few days, at which point we can wipe the whole chapter from our memories.

But if we did somehow get a chance to watch it before the rental period expired, I don’t know how I’d be able to watch it with the same sense of unbridled joy it gave me the first time, knowing that the Asgardians were marching toward their deaths at the hands of Thanos and his minions.

A year ago, I wouldn’t have cared.

A year ago, I had only seen one Thor movie and found it a middling entertainment at best. I had not deigned to watch Thor: The Dark World because I considered it a probable waste of my time. I did eventually watch it as a precursor to the release of Thor: Ragnarok, which did excite me, just in case there was some important information I’d need to glean from the second movie in the trilogy. Didn’t want my anticipated viewing of Taika Waititi’s first MCU film to be compromised by a failure to grasp the nuances of the story.

I liked The Dark World better than I would have ever expected to, but it was Ragnarok that made me fall in love with the Asgardians, their place in the MCU and their heretofore unexplored great senses of humor. Having initial rejected Thor as “that Marvel series set in outer space,” I had found a deliriously fun spectacle that just missed my top ten of last year.

And now? Well, now they’re all dead.

Okay, not all of them. Although I’d thought that Thor and his people were all on one ship when they left the wreckage of Asgard, apparently, in a line of dialogue from the man himself, only “half his people” were killed by Thanos in the opening of Infinity War. The others? I guess they’re somewhere else. In another ship? We didn’t see Sif or Valkyrie, after all. Smart to keep Valkyrie around, as she was one of the best parts of Ragnarok.

But Loki? Heimdall? All your other rank-and-file Asgardians?

Dead, dead and dead.

Of course, the body count of characters we know and care about in Infinity War is in the double digits by the end. Everyone knows that the ones who turned into dust aren’t gone for good. But the ones who died deaths earlier in the film – like Loki, Heimdall, Gamora and Vision – could be irretrievably dead.

Then again, Thanos has an infinity stone that allows him to control time, so that will allow the writers to do pretty much anything they want.

But the death of Loki hit me particularly hard, in part because I feel that one, for sure, will not be reversed. Thor even prepares us for the possibility he'll come back by saying Loki’s been dead before, but I don’t think so. Tom Hiddleston is probably ready to do other things after playing Loki in five different movies, considering that he was always more of a thespian type and never figured to build his career on the backs of comic books.

But a year ago, I wouldn’t have given two shits. Loki? Thor? Their dad? The other characters, whose names I did not know at the time? You could have thrown them in the fire for all I cared.

This movie did throw them in the fire, and it made me sad.

But it also made me love this movie. Or it was one of the things, anyway.

I know there’s nothing that occurs here that’s truly irreversible, when you’ve got infinity stones that allow both time and reality to be warped, and when Dr. Strange can look forward to 14 million different outcomes for a battle that has yet to occur. These people are so powerful – too powerful, some would say – that death is not a permanent impediment to their character arcs.

But Avengers: Infinity War did as much as it could do, within the overall requirements of keeping these characters around to make money off them for years to come, to give us something we hadn’t seen before – stakes that really resulted in the real deaths of at least some of them.

And that opening, in which Thanos uses his oversized hand to squeeze the life out of Loki by the neck, perfectly set the tone for future tragedies to come. Finally, this was a Marvel movie unafraid to make the stakes important.

That’s an odd thing to say when nearly every movie involves the possible end of the world. But none of them involve the possible end of one of the characters. Seriously, in 18 (or whatever) Marvel movies, has an important character, with any type of long history in the comic books, died, ever?

Marvel has at last woken up to the core mentality of peak TV, in which unexpected deaths keep us on our toes, and are in fact the very things that make us love the TV shows we watch. There are certain shows where we are worried that truly no one is safe, and that’s both an enthralling and chilling feeling to have while watching something whose characters you care about. Now, we can have that feeling when watching a Marvel movie, which is pretty great.

No matter what deaths are reversed in the sequel to Infinity War, Marvel has delivered at least one fatal blow, and that’s to the Thor franchise. It can’t come back from this. It just can’t.

And though I’ll miss it – I’m surprised to say – I’m grateful to Marvel for having the guts.

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